Freedom and Joy is but a Bicycle AwayMy first very own brand new ten-speed bike arrived courtesy of Santa when I was 12. The shackles of my parental overseers fell away, distant horizons suddenly seemed nearer, a new world beckoned. I became a chemist’s shop delivery boy and in my free time spent endless hours riding to my friends’ homes, seeking out historic buildings and relics of Sydney’s past or just riding for the sheer joy of it.
Back then Sydney had fewer cars and even fewer reasons to use them on weekends, with shops closing at noon on Saturday and not reopening until Monday. Venturing out on Sunday mornings I often had the streets entirely to myself, but cycling on weekdays, then as now, you took your life into your own hands.
Riding aimlessly one Sunday afternoon near Moore Park in 1980, I stumbled upon a very large protest group of cyclists, feverishly ringing their bells and chanting: “What do we want? Cycleways! When do we want ‘em? Now!” Hardly original, but I joined in on the fun and continued with them to Hyde Park. Even 38 years ago separated cycleways were, through necessity, being called for.
The arrival of dockless share bikes filled me with excitement. Unencumbered by ownership or responsibility, those wanting a mount, for whatever reason, could find the nearest available bike on their smartphone, unlock it and pedal away. I hoped that this ease of access would cause thousands more to take to cycling, filling traffic lanes, silencing the critics.
However, just as a Midwest trail- er park is a magnet for tornados, a dockless bike became a magnet for vandals (albeit some very creative ones) and without warning, no matter where we looked, dockless bikes violated our manicured, once clutter-free streets (just ignore all the parked cars, boats and trailers). These foreign-owned invaders with their gaudy colours were acne on the face of suburbia. Then, miraculously, even quicker than they had appeared they all vanished, leaving not a pock mark. A heavy application of legislative Clearasil was all that was needed.
Thus ended Sydney’s short-lived experimentation with dockless bikes. Sadly, the masses did not embrace them. But the push for separated cycleways continues and progress is finally being made. Recently the NSW transport minister approved $5.2 million for the construction of a separated cycleway through Bondi Junction.
In addition, the design of the South Coogee to Kingsford separated cycleway has just been released for public comment and a cycleway running from Kingsford to Centennial Park is now awaiting Randwick Council’s application for construction funding. The NSW Government will meet most design and construction costs, totalling over $15 million. These cycleways are decades over- due but proof that the government is now listening and responding.
Soon, a new experiment will invite inner city Sydneysiders to abandon their cars. Dockless scooters, similar in design to those we had as kids, are coming. Electrically powered to propel you along at 25 km/h, the big difference is these scooters will be collected at nightfall by paid ‘Scootonians’ for recharge overnight.
This phenomenon has already hit Auckland. Our Kiwi neighbours and their government have so far been cautiously positive, but their media, pandering to the ‘roads are for cars, footpaths are for pedestrians’ ideologues, have worked themselves into a frenzy. The news coverage of each and every scooter mishap or near miss would have you believe that it’s carnage over there.
We’ ll always be sceptical of promises of a personal transport revolution. I can’t be alone in my disappointment that Segways didn’t get the chance they deserved as a commuting option. Scooters or a yet-to-be-invented personal transportation device may some- day replace the bicycle.
You don’t need mystical insight to know that whether or not that happens, ever-increasing numbers of inner metropolitan commuters will continue to turn to low emission, low-cost, portable transport options, and demand a fairer share of the road network be set aside for their use.
My first bike brought me immense feelings of freedom and joy. Dedicated cycleways will ensure everyone else can feel that way too.
Bruce Notley-Smith is the State Member for Coogee. The views expressed here are his own, although we generally agree with them as well.